The holidays can be a joyous time, spending time with relatives and carrying on traditions. But for the person with dementia, it can quickly become overwhelming, anxiety producing, and an unpleasant experience - both for the person and caregiver. Consider these tips as you plan for your holiday events, to help things go smoothly and with the positive outcome that you desire.
• Communicate in advance with guests - Talk to potential guests before they come to inform them about the individual's current condition and any tips or concerns you have. People can be unsure about how to act around those with Alzheimer's and some advance preparation can be helpful. You might provide simple activities that can be done together, if the person has trouble carrying on conversations. For example, picture books, a simple puzzle, or sampling a tray of cookies!
• Stick with the familiar - Staying at locations familiar to the person will help minimize disorientation and anxiety. Participating in familiar, yet simple, holiday traditions can help trigger long-term memories and joy. For instance, favorite hymns, foods, or scents are simple traditions that can be enjoyed.
• Avoid over-stimulation - The person with dementia can be easily overstimulated, so simplify activities and reduce noise. Having small groups of visitors over a longer period of time can be better than large group gatherings. Or, if it is a large gathering, have the person in another room, with pairs of people at a time coming in to visit.
• Involve the person with simple tasks: set out forks, fold napkins, stir food, read a simple book to a child, sing favorite songs. It will help the person feel a part of the action and useful, and can, therefore, lessen anxiety.
• Set realistic expectations - Know the limit of your loved one and of yourself. Make a plan that you are comfortable with and be flexible so that plans can be modified, if needed. If you are hosting guests, keep it simple; for example, using only store-bought appetizers or having guests bring the food
• Create a moment for yourself - Caregivers need these moments! Ask others for help, to allow you a bit of time to enjoy the season yourself. Even if it is only enough time for a cup of tea and tasty treat, it will help to re-energize you.